LA JETEE (Chris Marker, 1962)

With affinities for Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958), Robbe-Grillet and Resnais’s Last Year at Marienbad (1961) and Godard’s upcoming Alphaville (1965), Chris Marker’s black-and-white “photographic novel,” La jetée, explores “the paradoxes of time.”
     On the pier at Orly, a boy espies a woman with a winsome smile. If he were grown, they might fall in love.
     Marker’s film consists of stills and solemn voiceover. Paris, razed in World War III, is “rotten with radioactivity”; in subterranean passageways, “the victors stood guard over a kingdom of rats,” submitting prisoners to mind-experiments calling up past and future “to rescue the present.” One of these prisoners is the grown version of the boy at the beginning. Attached to the image of the woman he saw on the pier, he is sent into the past, where he, as he is now, and the woman do become lovers; but the man realizes that the woman was killed in the war. Having her is a kind of perpetual loss. Moreover, his captors yank him out of this past to send him to the future, where he discovers that Paris has been rebuilt. Narrator: “Since humanity had survived, it could not refuse to its own past the means to its own survival.” The future accepts him, but the man opts to return to the past, hoping that his beloved will be waiting for him. There she is; he runs toward her—an event shown in an agitated montage resembling freeze frames. At the film’s beginning, on the pier, was a dead body. Alas, the man now knows this was he. “There is no way out of time.”
     Earlier, a series of dissolves of his sleeping beloved culminated in the film’s one spot of motion: her eyes opening. Now the dreamer’s eyes are forever shut.

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